Tombland by CJ Samson
This not a book to slip into your work handbag to have a bit of an idle through at lunch. You will put your shoulder out. It is 866 pages long. There was a bit of a moment in our house when I almost dropped it on the dog. He’s only a Jack Russell. I could have killed him.
I have read all the Shardlake books. To be honest, I thought the series might have finished. It is over four years since the last one was published. The series is set in Medieval England. It’s a crime series and the investigator is Matthew Shardlake – a lawyer with a back deformity. Although his back is often referred to – Shardlake refers to the pain he is often suffering and he is subject to a lot of nasty name calling – he is written as a heroic figure. He fights for the rights of the poor and oppressed, he has the ear of kings and queens and is respected by his peers and his friends. This appears to make him very attractive – and, although he is usually alone – many ladyships and queens seem happy to flutter their hankies in his direction. (Not a euphemism). Imagine him as a sort of George Clooney with a cushion stuffed up the back of his jumper.
All the books are based around factual historical people and events and the stories bounce fictional Shardlake in and out of events you will know well – a bit like that annoying couple in the Titanic film. So, in one book he manages to get himself stuck on the Mary Rose at the least convenient time, in another, he is arrested on false charges and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He serves Cromwell and Henry VIII as well as a few random royal relatives with varying degress of sucess.
What he is good at is detecting. He chases serial killers like a dog chasing a ball. In this novel Shardlake is investigating a nasty murder on behalf of the Boleyn family. Elizabeth – daughter of Ann Boleyn and destined to find even more fame by doggedly outlasting everyone else and therefore getting to be the Queen, has called upon him for assistance.
He follows the clues to Norwich and finds himself in the middle of the Robert Ketts Norfolk rebellion. For me, the story really comes into its own here. The historical detail and the background to the rebellion is excellent. The human face of the rebels who were losing land and livelihoods to illegal enclosures is really well drawn. Happy endings are a bit thin on the ground.
This is a stone cold, bang on, page turner. It’s long but you can race through it – not in a bad way. Some of the deaths are really quite graphic and I have been known to skirt over them a bit. Everytime I read a Shardlake I find myself thinking that, actually, it is more of the same and it is true that it’s not a book I would like to treasure on a bookshelf for the rest of my days but, if CJ Sansom writes any more, I’ll be there with my book tokens in my hand and a shopping trolley to help me get it home.